Nahum’s Context: The prophetic ministry of Nahum takes place sometime between Jonah’s ministry and the fall of Nineveh (a major Assyrian city) in 612 B.C. Although it is difficult to provide the precise years of his ministry, Nahum does offer a significant clue in his description of the fall of the Egyptian capital to the Assyrians in Nahum 3:8 (663 B.C.). Thus, it is appropriate to assume that sometime between 663-612 B.C. Nahum is called by God to announce the coming judgment of the Assyrian nation. Assyria was an empire that had risen to such power that it was able to subdue surrounding nations through terror and fear. Now, this ancient superpower would face a power that is unmatched in all of creation—Yahweh, the Divine-Warrior.
Nahum’s Message – Theological Theme(s): Even though the book is dominated by the announcement of God’s judgment on the Assyrians, the reader would be remiss to overlook the primary theme—the nature of God. The first chapter, which announces the unmatched power of God, is the bedrock upon which Nahum describes the effects of the coming judgment. His unapologetic description of God is meant to create both reverence and awe in the minds of the reader. Nahum describes God as a divine warrior who will execute justice with an incomparable power. Even one of the most powerful nations of the Ancient Near East, the Assyrian Empire, could withstand the power of God unleashed in judgment.
The second theme flows out the first and is implicit throughout the announcement of judgment on Nineveh—there is hope for the remnant of God’s people. The defeat of the Assyrian empire is a sign of the remnant’s coming deliverance. Likewise, this promise of deliverance pointed beyond this one historical event and serves as a reminder that God’s power will, in the end, defeat evil. The message, though directed at the Assyrians, was likely intended for Israel as both a warning of God’s wrath and an exhortation to trust in God’s redeeming power.
Significance of Nahum’s Message for Christians:
1. God is both incomprehensible and knowable.
2. God’s power is unmatched.
3. Because God is sovereign over the nations, believers have hope that in the future God will eliminate evil forever.
Further Study in Nahum: 1:2-8 a liturgical hymn about the nature of God.
Hymns (confessions) have played an important part in instructing and encouraging God’s people for several millennia (cf. Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:6-10). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that one of the prophets composed or edited a hymn about the nature and purposes of God. Nahum’s confession highlights God’s posture toward unbelievers and his protection of His chosen people. Consider the following three foundational aspects of God’s character and work.
1. The LORD is a jealous God (1:2-3). God is not jealous in the way that we understand the attitude. The biblical concept goes far beyond a temporal and selfish human emotion. Because God has no equal He will not tolerate any rivals. God’s unrivaled power and unmatched character are thus the basis for the biblical concept of divine jealousy. His wrath and vengeance, therefore, flow out of His unwillingness to share His glory with any other.
2. The LORD is in complete control over all creation (1:3-5). Theology is often refined in the face of heresy. This may have been the case when Nahum penned these verses. The ancient teaching that creation existed in a dualistic chaos, represented by the separation of land and sea, is being addressed in Nahum’s declaration that Yahweh has exclusive and complete control over all of creation. As demonstrated in His power over every inch of creation, the LORD has no equal and will not tolerate any claims to the contrary.
3. The LORD is perfect in His judgment and His love (1:6-8). To appreciate God’s love, one must begin by understanding His holiness. Who could ever stand before such a powerful God? No one! Thus, His preservation of a remnant of people who cling to Him is an equally amazing demonstration of His power. He has no rivals, and no one can withstand His righteous judgment. Yet, He loves those who seek refuge in Him!
Nahum 1:2-8 (ESV) The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. 3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. 5 The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. 6 Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. 7 The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. 8 But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.